The prequel and third film of the Underworld franchise is a fairly straight forward tale that is executed well and will please any fan of the series as it settles in as the second best film in the trilogy.
Viktor (Bill Nighy) is the leader of a vampire clan somewhere in Europe and they survive by being protected and create wealth through the work of their slaves which are a breed of werewolves called Lycans. The idea for these protectors came from a Lycan that was born a human, Lucian (Michael Sheen), making him the first Lycan that could switch between forms and Viktor, seeing how valuable this kind can be, “bred” them to protect and mine for silver for his clan’s well being; he also allowed Lucian to take on a more free role, albeit a collar keeping him from turning, in the coven home of the vampires. Unknown to Viktor, Lucian’s freedom allowed him to form a relationship with Viktor’s daughter Sonya. When Lucian begins to act out in defense of Sonya, and removes his collar to defend her, leading to his banishment to the level as the rest of the Lycan slaves under control of Viktor and his fellow vampires. Lucian’s imprisonment leads him to see the light of being an enslaved race and he rallies his kind and begins to plant the seeds for a potential breakout of the grips of Viktor’s control.
The film is a solidly constructed and paced piece of genre cinema, and there is a whole lot to be upset with. The film is fairly straight forward though and has little twists in turn for the viewer. But the films production values are solid all around for the most part though. The director, Patrick Tatopoulos, does a nice job of making some decent action and always keeping the film moving forward. The characters might come across a little one dimensional, but it keeps things quick with plenty of action, which is what we are looking for out of a picture like this. I will say, they over edited the crap out of this movie with way to many cuts poor action cinematography, it was really hard to tell what the heck was going on from time to time. And I just don’t get why people think this kind of editing works for movies, I just don’t. The effects are solid as well throughout, with a couple of Lycan beast shots looking a little fake, but its forgivable.
The thing that hurts this film the most though, is the fact that the emotional gut punch of this film has already been told and we have seen it in the first Underworld film. And while said scenes are executed well, and the film adds a bit of a twist to it, it would have been pretty gripping stuff if it all wasn’t predetermined. Regardless, the film moves right along and is entertaining throughout, it might have just been a bit more affecting had it been more of a surprise as to what will happen. Also, the ending is a bit contrived with a character “death” who we know doesn’t die, but they act like he does.
The actors in the film all do a fine job and the fact that a couple of top actors headline the picture in Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen help keep the film quality high when it could easily have folded into being terrible with lesser talent. Nighy hams it up and plays it over the top just enough so that it doesn’t feel like too much; well most of the time. He isn’t as quite as a badass as he was in the first film though, which is a bit disappointing but he still captures Viktor well. Michael Sheen is the stand out of the picture as Lucian and he plays the charismatic leader and pairs it with the intensity of being a werewolf for a perfect blend for our films hero. It will be interesting to see how these two’s roles change when re-watching the first film once viewing this prequel. Rhona Mitra does an alright enough job as the heroine Sonya, though she is basically channeling Kate Beckinsale as Selene in both looks and emotions. The rest of the cast is ok as well, with no one really standing out for good or for bad, and the fact no one falls in the bad category is a relief for fans of the series.
In the end, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is a solid fantasy/horror flick, and while not as good as the original it is still a good entry in the series. Though doing nothing terribly new for horror/fantasy/or story telling in general, it does everything well enough and is entertaining enough that one can’t really complain. Will this film win over new fans for the series, maybe a couple, but for existing fans it will be a solid conclusion to one of the more fun trilogies of the decade.